The new prosecutor for Counties Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton comes from a famous family.
But Ginger Bowden Madden is her own wife, and her years of experience and plans in how to prosecute legal matters throughout the Florida First Judicial Circuit are testament to the ramifications she intended.
Bowden Madden told the news journal that she intended to use civil citation and diversion programs to keep juvenile offenders out of the judicial system and, if necessary, “aggressively” use her powers to protect the public.
Bowden Madden is sworn in as the Florida First Judicial Circuit District Attorney on January 5, replacing outgoing District Attorney Bill Eddins.
“I told my father that after all of my brothers’ ceremonies and the things he attended, he’d better show up for me,” Bowden told Madden in the weeks leading up to her swearing-in ceremony.
Top job:Ginger Bowden Madden will be the next attorney for 1st Circuit
Predecessor:Prosecutor Bill Eddins reflects on his 48-year career
If you’re a college football fan or grew up in Florida, you’ve probably heard of the new prosecutor’s famous family.
Bowden Madden’s father, former Florida State Seminoles soccer coach Bobby Bowden, is considered one of the greatest college soccer coaches of all time. Her brothers Tommy, Terry, and Jeff Bowden have had their own success coaching Division I college football programs.
Bowden Madden, 59, is herself a 39-year-old Florida Panhandle resident, and when she shares her life story and experience as a prosecutor, she doesn’t shy away from the fact that her father is Bobby Bowden. But she doesn’t go into it either.
“When my father trained in West Virginia, we were there 10 years before we returned to Tallahassee,” she said. “We were in Tallahassee in my senior year of high school when I got my first law firm job, and I’ve been with one ever since.”
Bowden Madden qualified for the prosecutor’s position without objection after her only opponent, Assistant Attorney Greg Marcille, dropped out of the race in March for health reasons.
When Bowden Madden succeeds Eddins next month, she will be the first woman to serve in the role overseeing law enforcement in the four-county area.
“I think she’ll do a good job,” said Eddins, who has held the post for 16 years. “She’s been in the office for about 25 years and has tried many cases during that time.”
Bowden Madden said she quit her 26-year job as assistant attorney in Okaloosa County last spring to take part in the prosecution race and “100% campaign.” She said the move was “terrifying”.
However, once it became clear that Bowden Madden would be the next prosecutor, Eddins hired her as assistant prosecutor that summer. Only this time she wasn’t stationed in Okaloosa County.
For the past six months, Bowden Madden has worked in the First Circuit Chief Attorney’s Office in the Escambia County Courthouse. There Eddins oversaw his successor’s direction, and Bowden Madden spent the time studying and learning the ropes of administrative duties that the position requires.
“I asked her to evaluate the office, familiarize herself with the parts of the office she was least familiar with, review the staff, and take a fresh look at the office,” explained Eddins. “She’s met the office staff and is really as prepared as possible to be the next prosecutor in my opinion.”
A life in the law
The first time Bowden Madden entered a law firm, she was still a teenager.
“I had to have a newspaper notarized and you know you used to go to a bank or a law firm,” she recalled. “I just got into this little law firm.”
The attorney certified a permit signed by her parents authorizing Bowden Madden to go on a trip with a Christian youth group. Then he mentioned that he happened to be looking for a typist.
Bowden Madden knew how to type, so she took the job and a legal career was born – even if she didn’t know it.
Bowden Madden joined Florida State University as a communications major in the fall of 1979.
“I originally wanted to be the Phyllis George of the 1980s. This name rings any bells?” She said about the famous sportswoman of the 1970s. “That was a long time ago. That was so strange, but I wanted to be a broadcaster.”
Her freshman interests changed over time, and Bowden Madden dropped out of school for a brief period and later moved to Troy University, where she worked as a legal clerk for about 10 years.
“One day I said to myself, ‘Well, if I’m held responsible for everything -‘ My secretary didn’t tell me ‘or’ My secretary didn’t tell me ‘- I might as well jump over to the other side of the desk. “
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Bowden Madden enrolled at FSU College of Law. She graduated in 1994 and was hired as an assistant prosecutor in Shalimar almost immediately.
She spent most of the next 10 years prosecuting criminal cases before district court judges, and gained a wealth of experience on her way to becoming what Eddins called “veteran” prosecutors.
But life took an unexpected turn in 2004 with a tragic car accident.
“I lost my son – my middle son. I have three sons. He was 15. He was almost 16,” Bowden Madden said. “He and his father were killed.”
She was given the opportunity to work in what was then the less stressful environment of the juvenile court.
“It was the kind of job you only went to court about once a week,” she said. “I had about 12 months of respite because I had my boys. I had to take care of my boys too.”
The new lawyer
The year Bowden Madden spent before a juvenile court had a profound impact on her.
Her views on juvenile offenders have permanently changed and will now affect the way the office she will soon be running handles criminal cases involving juveniles.
“If you don’t send a kid to jail for life, they’ll come out worse than they went in,” Bowden Madden told the News Journal. “They’re sending a 17-year-old to jail for six years. When they get out, they’ll only be street-like and hardened for six years.”
Bowden Madden plans to promote new programs and, if possible, develop existing programs such as the Civil Citations Program for Juvenile Free Offenders.
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She has already been approached by local groups who want the same thing.
“Some of these groups are trying to bring community programs like the civil citation program together and keep children out of the criminal justice system,” she said. “The goal is to keep the kid out of the system. Once you make an arrest, you’re in the system. You were charged with a crime and then sucked in.”
The idea behind programs like the civil citation program is to provide opportunities for children charged with crimes other than simply to be thrown behind bars.
Instead of locking a child behind bars – the risk of further corruption of a young mind and possible advance into a higher level of crime – the idea is to provide them with various tools.
“You say, ‘OK, but your punishment is to go to this counseling program or do this program or do community service,'” she said.
“But the reality is,” began Bowden Madden as her expression turned serious and her voice seemed to deepen.
“The reality is, when they get to a point and we’ve tried everything else – we’ve tried services; we’ve tried parole; we’ve tried short detention for a few weeks; we’ve sent them on to a program with low risk, we sent him to a high risk program – at some point you have to say, “stop.” I understand my number one priority is protecting the public.
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8680.